Barrington council passes flag policy in marathon meeting

Council gives itself and town manager authority to fly flags in front of Town Hall

By Josh Bickford
Posted 2/2/21

The Barrington Town Council meeting was held on Monday night, but it was actually early Tuesday morning when members voted to approve a flag policy.

The council afforded more than three hours of …

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Barrington council passes flag policy in marathon meeting

Council gives itself and town manager authority to fly flags in front of Town Hall


The Barrington Town Council meeting was held on Monday night, but it was actually early Tuesday morning when members voted to approve a flag policy.

The council afforded more than three hours of time to people who wanted to speak about the policy, and it became clear very early into the discussion that the public was divided on the issue.

About half of the speakers asked councilors to approve the flag policy, many stating that they supported the idea of giving the council and town manager the power to choose which flags to fly on the town hall flag pole.

The other half pleaded for councilors to reject the policy. Many said the policy was “a slippery slope” and legally flawed. Some speakers, including some representatives from the Rhode Island Coalition for Israel, also shared their opposition to the town flying the Black Lives Matter flag on the town hall flag pole.

By about 12:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning, the council had officially voted unanimously to approve the policy, which was initially drafted by Councilor Jacob Brier and later altered with revisions from other councilors.

For the most part, the policy codifies what the town had already been doing — it gives the town council and the town manager the power to decide which flags to fly on the pole. It states that councilors cannot individually block the town manager from raising a flag on the town hall flag pole but can call for a meeting within two days to talk about it.

Early into the discussion, attorney and longtime Barrington resident Giovanni Cicione cautioned the council about passing the policy. Mr. Cicione, who also serves as the chairman on the Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil Rights, said there are portions of the policy that are problematic. He said the council must have a consistent and fair process — he asked the council to imagine if the town had flown a “Make America Great Again” flag in front of the town hall and all the schools in Barrington.

Scott Douglas, a former member of the town’s Committee on Appropriations and a member of the U.S. Military, said he supported the policy. He also said he supported the town manager’s decision in August 2020 to fly the Black Lives Matter flag.

William Jacobson told members of the council that he has lived in Barrington for 25 years and works as a law professor at Cornell University. He said this was the first time he had decided to get involved in a town issue. He said he was very concerned about the policy from a legal point of view, adding that the issue appeared to be intertwined with the council’s decision to fly the Black Lives Matter flag. Mr. Jacobson then said he had been studying the Black Lives Matter organization since 2014 and that while the majority of people who support BLM have goodwill in their hearts, the group was founded by Marxists. He also said Black Lives Matter means different things to different people — he then asked the council to defer any vote on the issue.

Councilor Rob Humm, later in the discussion, asked the town’s solicitor, Michael Ursillo, about the alleged legal issues surrounding the policy.

Mr. Ursillo said there was no question in his mind that the flag pole was government speech. He said the council was elected by the public and had the right to decide which flags to fly and which flags not to fly. Mr. Ursillo also said that many other communities had already followed this approach to flying flags on town-owned flag poles.

Other speakers

Paul Dulchinos, the president of the Barrington United Veterans Council, said he believes all black lives matter, but added that he and other members of the Barrington UVC do not support the national organization Black Lives Matter.

Mr. Dulchinos said it was time for the town to heal and stop flying divisive banners. He also said the council should not be in a position to choose what is free speech and what is not. Mr. Dulchinos said the town has provided free advertising to Black Lives Matter since August, and then added that it would be equally wrong for the town fly a Make America Great Again banner atop the town flag pole.

Sara Jordeno spoke after Mr. Dulchinos and said she supported the flag policy. She shared a personal story and also said it was offensive to her for her neighbors to display “Keep Politics Off The Pole” lawn signs in their yards. She also said her friend had been stopped by a police officer while driving in town and interrogated because her friend is gay. She said Barrington has a “humongous problem.”

Later in the meeting, Rev. David Mehl spoke in favor of the policy and felt it was the right decision to empower the council, which was duly elected by the public.

Enrique Sanchez, a Johnston resident, spoke as a representative of Black Lives Matter RI PAC. He wanted the town to keep flying the Black Lives Matter flag at the town hall. He said BLM does not stand for Marxism, and does support veterans.

Dave Scarpino, a Bristol resident, said he was opposed to the ordinance. He said it is time for people to stop putting up symbols and talking past each other. Mr. Scarpino said people should do something that is useful and good for the community instead of parading around with symbolism.

Vince Wicker spoke is support of the policy. The longtime resident supported the council deciding what flags to fly — that is why they were elected.

The discussion continued with people taking turns to say where they stood on the policy. Susannah Holloway, Mariana Silva-Buck, Jamie Burke, Paige Rahn, Katherine Quinn, Lisa Lowenstein, Rabbi Howard Voss Altman and others supported the policy, while Judy Dill, Howard Brown, Debra Nyser, Kerry Payne, Andrei Smuk, Margaret Kane, Michael Sholes and others opposed it.

In the end, the council spent most of its time discussing the language in the policy and then voted 5-0 to approve it.

BLM flag resolution

Members of the town council also voted 5-0 to approve a resolution to keep the Black Lives Matter flag flying on the town hall flag pole throughout the month of February, in honor of Black History, and for it to be lowered at the end of the day on March 3.

There was some discussion about distinguishing the council’s support for the Black Lives Matter cause and not for the Black Lives Matter organization. Members said that the BLM flag that is flying at the town hall focuses on the cause and not the BLM organization. There was some talk about using a different flag to show support for the cause next year.

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